• Bayonne Bridge Disaster - 50 Years Ago

  • Discussion related to New Jersey Transit rail and light rail operations.
Discussion related to New Jersey Transit rail and light rail operations.

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  by AndyB
 
There is also a article on the Bayonne Bridge Disaster in today's Sunday Star-Ledger. Page 17
48 people were killed when a Central Railroad of New Jersey train went through the stop signals and off the bridge.
The article reports that a memorial service will be held tomorrow at 9:45am on the waterfront near where the bridge stood.
It is now a walkway behind the A&P Store at 7th. and Ave "A", Bayonne. I was 11 at the time, but remember my father a Jersey City Police officer responded to the all hands call for assistance.

This is a link to an article at NJ.com
http://www.nj.com/starledger/stories/in ... xml&coll=1

Discussion can be found at CNJ forum:
http://railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=79&t=13630
  by Jtgshu
 
There is also a very good write up in the Asbury Park Press today as well

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/articl ... /-1/NEWS10
50 years ago, 48 died in N.J. rail tragedy
Train came from Long Branch

By Larry Higgs • TRANSPORTATION WRITER • September 14, 2008

BAYONNE — The memories of family members and friends, lost in the state's third-worst railroad accident, are still fresh, although a half-century has passed.

On Monday, Shore area families who lost parents, siblings and friends will gather at a ceremony on the shore of Newark Bay, where on Sept. 15, 1958, a Central Railroad of New Jersey commuter train from Long Branch plunged from an open drawbridge into the bay, killing 48 of the 100 people aboard.

Joan Carey was living and working in Bayonne when the accident happened. Her first thoughts were of her brother, Andrew Gill of Rumson, who she remembered took the train to New York, where he worked as a lawyer.

"We were having coffee in the office, when suddenly the mayor came in and said "there's been a terrible accident. A commuter train went off the bridge." I said, "Oh my God, my brother could be on that train'," said Carey, who was 27 at the time. "It was a harrowing day. We couldn't get any information. I called his office; we tried everything."

Finally, Carey went to police headquarters to inquire about her brother, who was 39 and a renowned tax attorney. People who were involved in the rescue had no information about her brother, although his briefcase had been recovered, she recalled. He was listed among the missing on Monday, Sept. 15.

The next day, a priest came to the door to confirm that her brother was among the dead onboard a railroad car pulled out of the bay, she recalled.

"My mom called him the joy of her life," said Carey, who now lives in Pompano Beach, Fla. "I don't think it's something you ever get over. I think of him all the time."

Had it not been the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the death toll from the Newark Bay Bridge disaster would have been higher, said Donald Dorflinger of Blairstown, a rail historian and author of a book about the tragedy.

"This had the potential to be worse. Because it was Rosh Hashanah, the first (rail) car was empty. It would have been full," Dorflinger said. "It was a late commuter train, arriving in Jersey City after 10 (a.m.)."

The five-car train's two diesel locomotives and two passenger cars ran off the bridge into the water, leaving a third car dangling from the bridge and half submerged in the bay, and two cars on the span.

Investigations found the train ran through a "stop" signal and was derailed by a safety device on the tracks. It was traveling at 42 mph. By the time emergency brakes were activated, there was a little more than seven feet before the open bridge and the bay to stop the 456-foot-long train.

A state and federal investigation blamed the accident on the locomotive crew and excessive speed. Railroad rules had a 22 mph speed limit on the section before the open bridge.

It took six days for the full death toll of 48 to be known, until the submerged train cars could be brought to the surface.

Currents in the bay hampered initial recovery efforts, and families had to wait for the grim news. Some went to Bayonne, other called authorities, and some called the Press, tearfully asking for lists of the dead and missing, according to news articles.

The crash claimed the lives of retired New York Yankees second baseman George "Snuffy" Stirnweiss of Middletown, who coached at Red Bank Catholic; and John Hawkins, then the mayor of Shrewsbury and member of the New York Stock Exchange. According to Press articles, he was carrying a briefcase containing $250,000 in negotiable securities, which were found next to his body in the submerged rail car and recovered. Elton W. Clark of Mantoloking, a director of the Allied Chemical Corp. and member of the Borough Council, also was killed.

Many theories surfaced about the cause of the accident, Dorflinger said. One was that Engineer Lloyd Wilburn of Red Bank had a heart attack at the controls and that fireman Peter Andrew also was stricken; others suggested the train had a brake problem or that signals on the bridge malfunctioned. Most were proved false in the official investigation by the federal Interstate Commerce Commission and the state Public Utilities Commission.

There were tragedies within the larger tragedy. James C. Adams of Rumson perished in the wreck, a day before his wife died of cancer, leaving their four sons orphans, the Press wrote at the time.

There also were harrowing escapes by survivors. Paul V. Land of Rumson told the Press how he escaped from his seat in the third rail car, which dangled from the bridge and was half in the water.

"I was thrown forward, and the water pushed me up," Land told Press reporter Robert Carroll.

Land said he broke a window and looked up to see the rail car dangling from the bridge. A crew in a helicopter threw him a line and lifted him to a nearby motorboat, he said. He was among many who were injured in the wreck.

A passenger in the third car, F. Campbell Jeffrey of Ocean Grove, had previously been a passenger in the state's worst train accident, the wreck of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Broker in 1951 in Woodbridge, which left 84 people dead.

"I felt the brakes applied violently. Then I noticed the car going over the ties, just like Woodbridge. I heard the sound of metal and suddenly the car went forward. I thought, "This is it,' " Jeffrey told Carroll. "The front of the car was full of water."

Jeffrey said he used the overhead luggage racks to climb out of the car and swim up to a bridge abutment to wait for rescue.

Elwood DeHart, 73, of Little Silver told Carroll he looked out the window of the train and saw a trawler headed for the bridge and realized the train wasn't slowing down.

"We bumped over the ties, off the tracks and went over," DeHart said in the article. "I slid toward the front of the car. Two-thirds of the way up, I grabbed a foot rest. A fellow opened a window and squirmed out. I wiggled out in back of him."

Maureen Thermann of Spring Lake was a young child when the accident claimed the life of her father, John J. McDonnell of Spring Lake, who was a lawyer in New York and a father of three.

"All I remember is my mother coming up to my bedroom and saying something about my father dying," said Thermann, who was 6 at the time. "There were a lot of relatives and friends around. They were there in our time of need."

Ann McMullen Hale of Spring Lake Heights was 9 when her father, Edward C. McMullen, was killed in the accident. Her memories of that day were of being sent with her sister to stay over at a friend's house in Spring Lake, where they were living at the time, and the turnout of firefighters for her father's funeral. Edward McMullen, who was 34, was a Spring Lake volunteer firefighter and a father of six children.

"I never saw so many firetrucks full of so many flowers," Hale said. "My mom didn't drive. She called Gordon (a family friend) and asked, "Did Ed make the train?' He said he drove him there and said, "I waved goodbye to him.' "

Edward's sister, Sister Mary Patrick of the Sisters of Christian Charity, went to Bayonne that day to find out if he was in the hospital after the wreck, Hale recalled.

"She went to the hospital and they told her to go to the funeral home," Hale said. "A big Irish policeman (wouldn't) let her in and said, "Give us a name.' "

The protective policeman said that her sister-in-law identified McMullen's body, Hale said.

"The people of Bayonne were so wonderful and comforting of everyone," she said.

Both Hale and Thermann had memorial Masses said for their fathers at St. Catharine's Church in Spring Lake. They are friends.

"This month, this is something we all think about," Hale said. "I'll be at St. Catharine's with Maureen. The families stay close in Spring Lake."

Despite the passage of 50 years, the tragedy and its victims are very much alive for those left behind.

"For our family, this is never forgotten. It is always talked about," Hale said, adding if a Mass isn't said in their relatives' memory, they go to church.

The family has a scrapbook of articles about the wreck. And the family keeps the memory of her father, whom her children know as "Grandpa Ed," alive through photos and stories, she said.

"My son looks just like him. There is a a picture of my dad with a baseball cap on, and he looks like him," Hale said. "My son said, "I want to meet Grandpa Ed.' "

From the tragedy also came a healing of sorts. Hale said her mother, Virginia, married a neighbor and family friend, "Uncle Len," who lost his wife to cancer in May 1958. They married in 1960, and Hale said her best childhood friends became her brothers and sisters, and the family grew to 11.

"I had three wonderful sisters I wouldn't have had. We never called them step (sister, brother or father)," Hale said. "God doesn't close a door without opening a window, and the window He opened for us was wonderful."
  by Ken W2KB
 
AndyB wrote:There is also a article on the Bayonne Bridge Disaster in today's Sunday Star-Ledger. Page 17
48 people were killed when a Central Railroad of New Jersey train went through the stop signals and off the bridge.
. . . I was 11 at the time, but remember my father a Jersey City Police officer responded to the all hands call for assistance.
I was nine and walked from my home on West 9th Street to the south side shoreline of the bridge. I remember it quite well. My uncle was a Bayonne fireman an on one of the several commandeered yachts pulling victims out of the water.
  by NJT4207
 
All the Hudson County bookies went broke because of this wreck. Everyone bet the car number of the coach that was dangling. It came out. :P
  by firthorfifth06
 
Just out of curiosity, which bridge was it: the one near 8th Street or the Newark Branch: i know that nylb trains used to go via Bayonne and West Side Ave.
  by 3rdrail
 
I wonder if that F. Campbell Jeffrey, who had also been in the 1951 Woodbridge wreck, started taking the bus after this one !
  by CarterB
 
An uncle of mine perished in that wreck. He was riding on a NY&LB pass (ex railroad worker) and was riding in the first car. I had heard that the first car was 'closed to the public' that run, but he and a few other rr employees happened to have been on it.
  by peconicstation
 
firthorfifth06 wrote:Just out of curiosity, which bridge was it: the one near 8th Street or the Newark Branch: i know that nylb trains used to go via Bayonne and West Side Ave.
The CNJ train from Bay Head (NOT Long Branch) used the only bridge that it could have at that time. The Newark Bay Bridge, or the 8th Street Bridge as it was oft times called in Bayonne. The long swing bridge over the Hackensack River, part of the Newark-New York Branch, or Direct Line was severly damaged in a 1946 collision with a freighter, and was never returned to service. That bridge (what was left of it) was removed a short time after that accident.

That branch, cut into 2 remained in service for freight trains on the Jersey City side (West Side Branch), and for Elizabethport-Newark passenger trains, South Kearny to Newark passenger trains, and freight trains as well as it's east side.

Ken
  by RGlueck
 
I found a photo of one of the Geep 7's being raised from the water, but very few images exist of the recovered engines
after retrieval.
Image